PEABODY — A Peabody man still on probation after his 17th drunken-driving conviction persuaded a judge yesterday not to send him back to jail, after he was caught driving again in September.
Charles Stefanilo Jr.'s license had been revoked for life as a result of his long history of drinking and driving. But that didn't stop him from getting behind the wheel over the Labor Day weekend, and probation officials wanted a judge to revoke his probation as a result.
"That means I would be doing eight years in jail," Stefanilo, 55, complained to Judge Timothy Feeley. "It's crazy."
Stefanilo, who hasn't had a valid license to drive since at least 1995, served nearly five years in jail following his 16th drunken-driving conviction in Massachusetts. He also has at least one out-of-state conviction.
His 2004 arrest in Peabody was actually his 20th drunken-driving arrest, but he was able to beat four of the cases on his record, which dates to 1977.
Under the terms of an unusual sentence imposed after that 2004 arrest, Stefanilo also received a suspended two-year jail term for being a habitual traffic offender and an almost-unheard-of 25 years of probation, along with a $50,000 fine.
During yesterday's violation-of-probation hearing in Salem Superior Court, probation officials asked Feeley to revoke Stefanilo's probation and send him back to jail to serve out that two-year term, citing a Sept. 5 arrest on charges of driving while under license revocation and other offenses.
Feeley denied the request, instead putting Stefanilo back on probation, albeit with a stern warning.
"I will not revoke probation," Feeley said. "I will continue him on probation. You can't drive, not today, not tomorrow, not 10 years from now."
That's the same thing the Registry of Motor Vehicles has told him repeatedly, according to a driver history provided by the agency.
His license was permanently revoked following his 2005 conviction.
Yet Stefanilo insisted in court yesterday that his former attorney, Maria Curtatone, told him that he might someday qualify for a hardship license that would allow him to drive for work.
His work? After his release from jail, Stefanilo bought a canteen truck.
"You've got a business that requires trucks, and you can't drive?" Feeley asked.
Stefanilo told the judge that he has hired drivers.
But on Sept. 5, the day Stefanilo was stopped by police in Burlington, his driver had to pick up her child and "I had a big inspection coming up. I ended up just taking a shot, which I should've never did. I'm kind of mad at myself."
He also expressed frustration at the limitations on his mobility.
"I can't be every place I want to be," Stefanilo said. "I need rides."
"Every time I ever got stopped before, I was drunk," he said. "This time, I was sober. On the biggest weekend of the year, I was dead sober."
He says he's been sober for 81/2 years, ever since his last drunken-driving arrest.
On the evening of Jan. 17, 2004, Stefanilo was drunk when he crashed a rented car he'd borrowed (without permission) from a friend on the ramp from Centennial Drive to Route 128 in Peabody, he later admitted in court.
At the time, he was still on probation for a 1999 drunken-driving conviction.
Stefanilo said that since his release from jail (after four years, 10 months and 22 days, he said yesterday), he's regularly attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings in Andover.
He also told the judge that while serving his time, he took part in a Scared Straight program, speaking to high school students.
Stefanilo, who was also charged with disobeying an officer and with driving an unregistered and uninsured vehicle with defective equipment, received a 60-day sentence from a Woburn District Court judge after his September arrest.
"I am guilty," Stefanilo said. "I'm not going to say I'm not guilty."
He had already completed that jail term before yesterday's hearing, leaving him free to walk out of court with his sister and his doctor.
Outside court, Stefanilo refused to comment, saying, "You people already had a field day with me."Souirce